In this story:
Defence Minister Bill Blair on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ‘maximum restraint’ comments
On Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to Trudeau, Blair says those comments are not a rebuke
No recommendation given on the length of a humanitarian pause
Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging the Israeli government to exercise “maximum restraint” in the war in Gaza, Canada’s defence minister says it’s wrong to believe that those comments suggest Israel is acting otherwise.
Speaking to CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview airing Sunday, Defence Minister Bill Blair responded to a question about whether the Canadian government believes Israel is not exercising maximum restraint in its now six-week-long war with Hamas.
“No, I think that’s the wrong inference to draw from the prime minister’s remarks,” Blair said. “The prime minister, quite understandably, is concerned about innocent lives on both sides of that border.”
He added Canada has “every expectation” that Israel will respect international rules around armed conflicts.
“We’ve also been crystal clear: Israel has the right to defend itself,” Blair said.
“They were attacked by a terrorist organization and they have a right to exist and, therefore, a right to defend themselves. The prime minister was simply reiterating our expectation, as I think all nations would agree, that the international rules order on how these conflicts will be conducted is important, as well, and we’re just restating that position.”
NETANYAHU RESPONDS TO TRUDEAU
During an event in Vancouver last Tuesday, Trudeau talked about the continued fighting, saying, “I have been clear that the price of justice cannot be the continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians. Even wars have rules.
“I urge the government of Israel to exercise maximum restraint, because the world is watching,” he said.
“On TV, on social media, we’re hearing the testimonies of doctors, family members, survivors, kids who’ve lost their parents. The world is witnessing this, the killing of women and children, of babies. This has to stop.”
Trudeau also said Hamas must stop using Palestinians as human shields and release all hostages “immediately and unconditionally.”
The Canadian government has designated Hamas as a terrorist entity for more than 20 years.
Trudeau’s comments drew a direct response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, “It is not Israel that is deliberately targeting civilians but Hamas that beheaded, burned and massacred civilians in the worst horrors perpetrated on Jews since the Holocaust.”
“While Israel is doing everything to keep civilians out of harm’s way, Hamas is doing everything to keep them in harm’s way,” Netanyahu said in his post, in which he tagged Trudeau.
“Israel provides civilians in Gaza humanitarian corridors and safe zones, Hamas prevents them from leaving at gunpoint. It is Hamas not Israel that should be held accountable for committing a double war crime – targeting civilians while hiding behind civilians. The forces of civilization must back Israel in defeating Hamas barbarism.”
On Wednesday, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid also responded to Trudeau saying, “Israel is defending itself in difficult conditions against a brutal terrorist organization while trying to rescue babies, children, women and men who are being held hostage by Hamas-ISIS. Responsibility for this terrible situation rests with Hamas-ISIS.”
“Hamas launched this war, Hamas hides in civilian buildings and Hamas abuses Gazans as human shields,” Lapid added. “If Canada ever found itself under a sustained and brutal attack like the one we face now, you would find Israel by your side. We expect the same support.”
Trudeau’s office said Thursday that he spoke with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz to affirm Canada’s support for Israel “and its right to defend itself in accordance with international law.”
“Prime Minister Trudeau reiterated Canada’s support for the right of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, dignity, and security, and he reaffirmed Canada’s enduring support for a two-state solution,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
ISRAELI PM’S COMMENTS NOT A REBUKE: BLAIR
On Netanyahu’s response, Blair said he read it “very carefully” and believes the Israeli prime minister was “providing assurances that that they were undertaking their part of this conflict in a way, which they believe to be responsible and in accordance with the laws of armed conflict. I did not take that as rebuke.”
Asked whether he believes Israel is exercising maximum restraint now, Blair said it would be “a mistake to engage in speculation or hypotheticals in the absence of evidence.”
“I don’t think the prime minister’s remarks should be taken to suggest that we are somehow coming to a conclusion that is not based on evidence because we don’t have that evidence before us. And we’re not going to engage in speculation as to whether or not those rules are actually being adhered to. We’re only simply encouraging Israel to understand and to reflect everyone’s concerned about the innocent civilians that are being impacted by that conflict.”
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, while around 240 people were taken hostage.
Israel has since launched repeated airstrikes, cut off food, fuel, water and supplies to Gaza, and conducted a ground offensive in the territory. At least 52 Israeli soldiers have been killed, as of Saturday, since the offensive began, The Associated Press reports.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations, more than two-thirds of whom are women and children, while another 2,700 are reported missing and believed buried under rubble.
The Canadian federal government has resisted pressure to call for a ceasefire and instead pushed for humanitarian pauses to allow aid into Gaza.
As for how long those pauses should last, Blair said, “I’m not in a position to say how long that pause needs to be.”
“We just want to make sure that humanitarian aid reaches the people who desperately need it,” he added.
“We’ve made a significant contribution as a country to that aid. We want to make sure that we can get it into those people safely, and so however long the hostilities would have to be paused in order to give that effect is something that we support, but I don’t have a precise time to recommend or to acknowledge to you.”
A survey earlier this month from Mainstreet Research found that 71 per cent of Canadian respondents support calls for a ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid. More than 80 per cent said a ceasefire must begin with the return of hostages.
A majority of Canadians also approve of Canada’s support for Israel and believe the priority should be the protection of civilians in Gaza, according to the polling company.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press